My personal blog.  Thoughts from my life for you to read.  I'lll try to keep 'em short.

The Best Motorcycle Mechanic in San Jose

I needed some work on my motorcycle recently.  I ride a 2005 Honda CBR1000RR.  Here's a picture of it:

 

It's definitely the most fun thing I've ever owned.  It's been very reliable, too.  I have over 27,000 miles on it and I'm the original owner.  I keep it well maintained; I had a new drive chain put on at about 25,000 miles, and I stay current on oil changes, tires, and the battery.

After 25,000 miles there is some service that needs to be done, most notably a valve adjustment.  The bike was running a bit rough and was hard to start.  I'd also never changed the engine coolant, brake fluids, or clutch hydraulic fluids.  It was time for a new air filter and spark plugs too.  I'm new to the area so I asked around; my friends recommended Dave Jenks, 408-294-2732.  He has a little shop full of motorcycles, lifts, and all the shop stuff you'd expect.

I scheduled an appointment and took my bike to Dave.  He was awesome.  He did the valve job and everything else.  He had it done right when he said he would and it started right away.  Frankly he charged me a lot less than I thought he should - my total bill including shop supplies was less than $500, which was exactly what his estimate said it would be.

I've had this bike a long time. I bought it new and I remember what it felt like. I feel like it actually runs better now than it did when it was new. Everything is tight and fast. I actually have to hold it back because it feels like it wants to go so fast.  I can't say enough good things about Dave's abilities as a motorcycle mechanic.

Dave's shop is somewhere near Almaden Road and US87, I've forgotten the address. Call him at 408-294-2732 if you need your bike worked on.

Audi RS4 check engine light (MIL)

The engine in the Audi RS4 is a marvel of modern engineering.  It's an example of Germany's finest work.  Made by quattro GmbH, my 2008 RS4 has been pretty much mechanically perfect since I bought it in 2007.

The instrument panel is also elegant in its simplicity.  It looks kind of similar to every other Audi instrument panel, even though the software behind it is much more complex than most Audis.  Here's how it looks at night:

It's maybe not quite so sexy when the check engine light comes on.  The only times I've ever seen the check engine light come on solid* was because one or two of the cylinders misfired.  It's happened VERY seldom - maybe 5 times in 5 years, and only when the engine is cold started.  Usually it's when it's very cold - in Canada sometimes it was -20C.

The engine always runs a bit rough right after a cold start, and every once in a while I guess there is a cylinder misfire when it's running really rough.  Presumably the misfire is either a cause or a symptom of the engine running rough.  I should mention that I always put premium gas in it, 91 octane or higher. (One time I saw 100 octane racing gas but I didn't want to spend the $9/gallon to try it. I wonder what would happen?)

Last week at a cold start (ambient temperature was maybe 65 degrees F), the MIL came on again.  I connected my el cheapo OBD-II diagnostic device and found the following 5 codes:

P0300 0308 0300 0305 0308

From looking this up previously and reading about it on Audi forums, I'm pretty sure this means that there was a cylinder misfire, it was cylinder 8, then there was another cylinder misfire, and it was cylinders 5 and 8.

I think the misfire is usually cylinder 8, or 3 and 8, or 5 and 8.  I'm not exactly sure what causes this or what to do about it but it doesn't seem particularly serious.  I usually just clear the check engine codes and the car runs fine for the next months or year.  I guess I won't worry about it unless it starts happening all the time.

*Note that if your check engine light is FLASHING then you need to turn off the engine right away, do not pass go and do not collect $200, and call a tow truck.  This has never happened to me but as I understand it, the flashing MIL means the engine wants its mommy and you should to take it to Audi for some TLC.

How to Start a Business

I attended an entrepreneur night at University of San Diego last week.  It featured a talk by Tom Breitling, who is a USD alumnus and entrepreneur.  His most recent venture is Ultimate Gaming, an online poker web site.  Tom's talk was about how to start a successful business.  Here is a summary of his talk:

  1. Solve a problem.  You should have some customers' problem in mind that you think you can solve.
  2. Understand the size of your market.  Also, timing is very important.  Too late, and you might have missed the opportunity.
  3. Build an incredible team.  Investors invest in people primarily.  Also, the importance of trust.  You have to be able to trust the people on your team, to share your passion and go the extra mile to win business and do a great job.  Finally, find other people whose strengths are your weaknesses.
  4. Frugality.  In a startup, frugality is extremely important.  Excessive spending or debt servicing will kill your business.  Live well within your means.
  5. Focus on a clear mission.  Figure out what is your core competency, and be excellent at that.  Everything else is "context" that you don't need to focus on and can even outsource.  For example, at Ultimate Gaming, technology is the core of everything they do, and they use technology to enrich/enhance the customer experience.
  6. Understand your business models and operating margins.  Also, risk management.
  7. It takes a spark to light a fire.  That is, for combustion, there needs to be fuel, air, and fire (and a free radical), but what is the spark that actually lights it?  For online gaming that "spark" is a good regulatory environment.

As I wrote this out I was thinking that there are not really any earth-shattering revelations there, it's all common sense.  But as the pundit said, common sense is not necessarily that common.  I think Tom is right that these are the key things to think about when starting a business.

Audi RS4 Tires

I drive a 2008 Audi RS4.  Since it's a high performance car, the tires are very important for both performance and safety.  It seems like I spend a lot of time in tire shops or worrying about tires, so I decided to write about the tires I've had on my RS4, my rationale for choosing them, how well they lasted, and how (if) they failed.

Here's how my car looks in the tire shop:

Tire Basics

I bought the RS4 new in November 2007.  It's worth mentioning that my driving style is not particularly aggressive.  Every once in a while I hear the tires chirp going around a corner but most of the time I just drive the car very normally.  It's fun, tight, and handles really well.  I would say I'm not unduly hard on my tires.

The car came with 19" rims and the proper tires for it are P255/35ZR19 with a Y speed rating (186 mph) or higher.  Because there is no spare tire, Audi recommends putting run-flat tires.  I think the idea is that with a run-flat tire, you will be able to maintain control of the vehicle even if there is a blowout or other failure, and you have a chance of driving to a tire shop on the flat tire.

Audi does provide an air compressor and a can of some sort of fix-a-flat goop in the trunk, along with a tire wrench in a very small toolkit.  I use the air compressor all the time, for bicycle, motorcycle, and of course the car.  From looking at it I can say I don't recommend trying to use any of that stuff (toolkit or goop) to change a tire.

A word about Flat Tires.

I've had 2 structural failures of tires, both times on Dunlop SP WinterSport 3D tires that were almost worn out and which were at the time being driven at freeway speeds on a hot (more than 65 degrees F) dry multi-lane asphalt freeway.  This is not the recommended usage for winter tires and probably contributed to the failure.  I should mention that in both cases it was the right front tire that failed, and prior to the blowout I was getting a bit of vibration and a WubWubWub sound from it for maybe 100 miles.  Both times, tire pressure monitoring alarm came on at the moment of failure and I was able to pull over safely to the side of the freeway.

In my experience, driving on the flat tire completely ruins it and even if there had been hope of driving on it a bit more, by the time I got to the tire shop it was completely trashed.  I had to get new tires both times.

I've also had 2 or 3 nail punctures of a tire.  Obviously there is no good place or time to get a nail puncture, but it happens, and since I have no spare I carry around one of those flat tire repair kits that has sticky goopy strings that look like pipe-cleaners, a rasp to roughen up the puncture, and a sort of threaded needle to insert the goopy string into the puncture.  This has worked surprisingly well for me.  You also need a pair of dykes (diagonal cutters) to cut off the excess goopy string after insertion, so it doesn't stick out past the tread.  Each time I patched the tire using that kit, re-inflated it, and didn't have any more trouble with it.  Each time there was a tire failure it wasn't the patched tire that failed.  I would say this patch technique will probably last the lifetime of the tire but of course you shouldn't drive around "Fast" on a tire that has had any repairs done to it, ever.

Audi RS4 Tire Recommendations

Audi OEMs Continental ContiSport Contact 3 tires with the RS4 (and probably with other Audis).  These  are probably OK but I haven't driven on them much.  Since it was winter when I got the car I asked the dealership to put on the Dunlop SP WinterSport 3D tires.  I have to say that in my opinion these tires are OUTSTANDING.  They are really great for handling on snow, ice, and other bad roads.  With those tires, in winter driving conditions, the Audi RS4 is the finest driving machine on the snow.  The combination of Dunlop SP WinterSport 3D tires, the Audi Quattro 4 wheel drive, the RS4's fantastic stability software and ABS, and the fact that it's finely balanced front/back (feels like driving a ballerina, really) so it won't spin, means you're the fastest/best/safest vehicle on the road as long as the snow's not too deep to drive on.

I drove those Dunlop WinterSport SP 3D tires until they failed, which was in the early summer.  Then I put on new Goodyear Eagle F1 tires, but the summer in Canada is really short, so I bought new Dunlop SP WinterSport 3D tires again.  I drove those through the winter, then put my Goodyear Eagle tires back on for the summer.

Unfortunately I didn't realize (and the tire shop in Calgary never told me) that my alignment was off, so by the end of the summer the Goodyear tires were ruined.  This is important so I'll describe exactly how they were ruined.  There LOOKED like there was lots of tread left, but because the alignment was off so much, the inside of the right front tire was worn down almost all the way to the steel bands.  The lesson learned here is to inspect the tires frequently including the inside of the tire, which might require trying to get under the car or else have someone drive it slowly in a sharp turn while you try to look at the inside of the tire.

I fixed the alignment and in winter I switched back to the Dunlop WinterSport tires. I kept those on until they failed this year.

I've only driven a few miles on the new Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric all season tires, and so far the ride is very smooth and everything feels tight.  The handling is crisp and there is no noise or vibration or anything.  I like these tires, plus they look cool.

The tires were $306 each and against my better judgement I did buy the "tire protection plan" for road hazards etc.  The tire shop charged an extra 10% of the tire price (x4 tires of course) for the TPP.  I normally don't buy any extended warranties because I think they're a waste of money.  In this case I guess it seems like my tires don't last very long and I spend a lot of time in tire shops or working on/worrying about tires so I decided to try it.  Some people say it's the best investment they ever made, but I guess I doubt that.  I'll update this article if this insurance seems like it was a good or bad investment.

Tire History

Here is a table showing how long all my tires have lasted:

  • Dunlop SP WinterSport 3D - Nov 2007 to July 2009.  Total tire lifetime: 44,000 Km (27500 mi).  The tires were new in 2007 and I guess I didn't put summer tires on in 2008, which probably didn't help them last a long time.  The right front tire failed structurally (the sidewall came apart from the tread) in July 2009.  I had ordered new summer tires in June 2009 but due to a tire shop SNAFU the new tires weren't available by the time I had to go on a road trip.  Sure enough the old winter tires didn't last through that hot summer road trip.
  • Goodyear Eagle F1 (old style, not asymmetric) - July 2009 to October 2009. 4,000 Km (2500 mi).  I really liked these tires - the car was lots of fun to drive on them.
  • Dunlop SP WinterSport 3D - October 2009 to May 2010. 9,700 Km (6050 mi).
  • Goodyear Eagle F1 (same ones as above) - May 2010 to November 2010. 19,000 Km (12,000 mi).  Because of the alignment problem, these tires were no longer usable in November 2010, even though they looked like there was lots of read left.  Total tire lifetime: about 23,000 km (about 14,500 mi).
  • Dunlop SP WinterSport 3D - November 2010 to February 2013.  23,500Km (14,700 mi).  Total tire lifetime was about 30,000 Km (about 18,500 mi).  I didn't drive the car much for these 2 years because I moved somewhere warmer (western Colorado) and rode my motorcycle most of the year.  I still had my Goodyear Eagle summer tires, but when I tried to have a tire shop put them on the rims, they refused to do so because of the uneven wear caused by the alignment problem.  I never got around to getting new summer tires, and finally this month they failed.  I drove to a tire shop and put on these new tires:
  • Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric All Season.  I'm in San Diego California now and I guess all season tires are probably the right thing for this area.  Certainly winter tires don't make sense here since we never get snow.  The car's mileage was 62,500 mi (100,000 Km) when I put these tires on.  Here's hoping that I have no alignment problems or road hazards so I get more than 15,000 miles out of these tires.

At some point in the future I might put Continental ContiSport Contact 3 tires on, but I would have to buy 2 more of them since I already have 2 due to another tire shop SNAFU which was expensive for me.  I might sell them too - if someone wants to buy two like-new (only 1000 Km/625 miles on them, no uneven wear) Continental ContiSport Contact 3 P255/35ZR19Y tires, please e-mail me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . :)

Have fun and drive safe!

-Jim

Weird Electrical Problem - 2005 Honda CBR1000RR

UPDATE August 2016: This problem happened to me again last year.  The second time was similar symptoms: after cranking the engine to try to start it, it acted like the electrical system was dead.  Replacing the battery resolved the issue.  If you're having any weird electrical issues or it acts dead, try a new battery and I bet it'll be fine.

By the way I recommend the OEM Yuasa battery.  When the first OEM battery failed after seven (7!) years, I replaced it a cheap one, but it lasted less than 2 years.  Then I got another Yuasa battery, and I expect it to last for 7 more years too.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

I had an unusual electrical problem with my 2005 Honda CBR1000RR motorcycle today, and since all my google searching turned up nothing helpful I thought I would post about it here in case someone else has the same problem sometime.

I was out running errands this afternoon.  The temperature was about 70 degrees F, sunny and pleasant.  The bike had been parked normally on its kickstand for about 20 minutes when I came out to start it.  I cranked the starter a few times but released the starter button right before the engine "caught."  I hit the starter button again and it turned over 3 or 4 times then stopped with kind of a clank.  The gauges and instrument cluster were all dark.  The tachometer needle was stuck outside its normal range.  I tried to illustrate here where I think the needle was stopped:

Note that the entire instrument cluster and panel were all dark as if the ignition was off.  I turned off the ignition using the key, then turned the key and expected it to power up again.  Nothing.  I clicked the cut-off button and turned the key off and back on several times for a few minutes.  Nothing.

At this point I pulled out the owner's manual.  Here is a list of the things the problem was NOT:

  • Ignition switch (key) off.  The key was on.
  • Tilt sensor.  The bike had not been dropped.
  • Loose battery connections or faulty cable.  All connections were very tight and cables were fine.
  • Dead battery. This battery is less than 6 months old and has been working fine.  I've been riding 2-3 times a week with no issues.  I've had a dead battery before and I know how to recognize it, and also how to push-start the bike.
  • It's worth mentioning that this bike had the alternator stator recall work done by a Honda dealership a couple of years ago.  Most of the electrical problems with Honda CBR sport bikes that I found when searching/googling were due to the battery dying during normal riding because the stator didn't have enough windings, or something.
  • Blown fuse.  I checked the main fuse and it was not blown. I replaced it with the spare main fuse anyway. Nothing. The fuel injection fuse was also not blown.  I pulled off the left middle cowl with the intention of checking the other fuses but as we'll see in a moment, none of them were blown either.
  • Bad starter solenoid.  The entire instrument cluster (and presumably engine computer and ignition system) were all apparently unpowered, including of course the starter motor.
  • The bike is neither very new nor very old and pretty much everything has worked fine since I bought it new in 2005.  As you can see from the photo there are about 19,000 miles on it.  I am the original owner and this is the first electrical issue I've had with it other than a dead battery last year.  The OEM battery lasted from 2005 to 2012 before it finally wouldn't accept a charge anymore.

The whole electrical system was, for lack of a better word, DEAD.  No amount of key-turning made it start working again.  It so happened that I had to take a break from working on the bike for a couple of hours.  Refreshed, I came back to the parking lot to try again to figure out what was wrong with my bike.

I put the key in the ignition and turned it on.  Nothing.  I turned it off, then turned it on again.  WHOA - the instrument cluster powered up, the tach needle swung back to where it was supposed to be, and the fuel pump came on!  I clicked the run/kill switch to Run and pressed the starter button.  It turned over and fired right up on the 4th crank.

After it warmed up I revved it a bit, turned the ignition off then back on & restarted it a couple of times, rode it a few yards, and it seemed to be fine.

I still don't know and can't explain what was wrong or why it went dark for apparent reason and then started working again even though I didn't change anything.  If anyone has any ideas or if this happens to you please feel free to e-mail me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I'll update this post with whatever new information comes along.

Cheers and ride safe!